My friend Chris, from Toronto, a healer himself, asked me to share what I learned from my shaman grandmother about the Igorots’ wisdom on healing — the understanding, the approach, the methods, the techniques, the processes, the rituals, and the results.

Thank you for asking, Chris.

I will try to answer your question the best possible way I could even though I’m well aware that my answer would be limited and very subjective according to my personal capacity to comprehend the Igorots’ worldview in general and in relation to how they view or deal with illnesses and healing in particular.

First of all, as I mentioned in my book, after caring for me since I was a babe, my grandmother died when I was about 10 years old. And when I was with her, she was already too old to be performing the healing rituals. So, I’ve not actually seen her perform a healing ritual. My knowledge of my grandma’s healing processes is from what I heard from my mother, elder siblings, and other people who have known her.

But more than the actual healing rituals, what she directly (consciously and subconsciously) imparted to me are, I think, even more valuable than the specific forms of healing rituals that she performed. She was, after all, not only an herbalist, a midwife, and a spirit medium but she was also a storyteller and a deep “contemplator” (what I’d like to call a philosopher). And this philosopher facet of her was what I chose to get from her as it deals more with ‘healing the mind’ than ‘healing the body’ — the former being my personal preference as a healer myself.

In my personal quest, I have discovered that to heal the mind is also to heal the body. Thus, the content of my book is more on shamanic philosophy rather than the usual shamanic healing that we are more familiar with.



Similar to other animistic cultures around the world, the traditional Igorot worldview holds the perspective that illness is almost always caused by supernatural factors. I think that this belief actually made a lot of sense for them at that time.

In a time where people consumed only organic foodstuff and lived simple, stress-free lives, and their bodies strong and sturdy, how could they blame chemical imbalances in their bodies to be the cause of diseases? It must have been displeased spirit-beings who made them ill!

Even an accident was not really an accident. For example, if someone had an “accident” and had hurt himself badly or got killed, it was believed that he might have done something displeasing to other beings. He might have transgressed a custom (rules and regulations to keep peace and order in pre-industrial societies). He might have displeased the nature-spirits by trespassing into their territory. He might have failed to give the spirits of dead ancestors their due. Or, he might have a conflict with another human and the latter did sorcery on him!



From what I gathered from the stories told, and through keen participatory observation and deduction, Igorot shamanic healing is done by considering the three aspects of a human being: body, mind, and spirit — the trinity.

The first is on the level of matter through the use of ‘chemistry’. Here we find the shaman’s use of herbs and other healing concoctions.

The second is on the aspect of metaphysics. Here is where storytelling and ‘consciousness or mind over matter’ comes in. The use of talismans and other sacred, energetically-charged objects to assist in what I call ‘mind tricking’ may also fall in this category.

Third is supernatural intervention. Spirit mediumship, dream interpretation, interpretations of signs/events, divination, chanting, praying and invocations may fall in this category.

All three aspects are wholly considered by the shaman emphasizing one aspect over another depending on the circumstances and needs of the patient.

Of course the people in my hometown would not simplistically categorize, label, or differentiate these three interwoven aspects. This is solely my attempt of systematization in order to ‘translate’ the complex nature of Igorot shamanic healing for the understanding of “outsiders” (sorry for my use of this barbaric term) and the general public.

The healing techniques of sucking, spitting, blowing (air) and yawning, accompanied by invocations and prayers, and perhaps the sacrifice of an animal or two may fall in all three categories of so-called aspects of the body-mind-spirit connection.



If what is meant by ‘results’ is if Igorot shamanic healing is effective or not, then here is what I know:

Just like in modern times with modern-trained doctors, hospitals, and even with advanced technologies, in shamanic healing, some illnesses get cured and some still not. The difference, I think, is that in shamanic healing, the approach is more holistic than the approach of many modern doctors. And this difference in approach may have a significant effect on the result. Having said that, however, still, Igorots believe that if every healing technique is done meticulously and yet a patient dies, it is simply because it’s the latter’s time to leave.

Needless to say, there are many various factors that contribute to the success or failure of a certain healing technique whether it be traditional shamanic healing or modern-western healing.

In today’s Igorot society, just like in religion wherein Christianity and animism are mixed, many people choose to subscribe to both systems of healing. They can go to a doctor and take modern medicine, and yet they may still consult a traditional healer and agree to conduct traditional healing rituals. Whatever works!



Is Igorot shamanic healing transferable or applicable to non-Igorots?

The answer is both yes and no.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine consulted me as she had been also consulted about the prospects of using Igorot ancient shamanic healing techniques in healing the traumas of American soldiers who fought in Iraq.

The Igorot shamanic system does include methods to heal traumas and mental depressions. In the distant past, after engaging in a battle, warriors were quarantined, processed and “cleansed” before they were allowed to go home to their families. This same processing and cleansing practice is applied to people who have witnessed, or were involved in tragic incidents. Even able-bodied rescuers who helped in rescuing people involved in tragic accidents had to undergo cleansing healing rituals.

But is the traditional Igorot system of healing trauma, depression, and other psychological disturbances transferable or applicable, for instance, to traumatized American soldiers?


The answer is no:

The Igorot traditional healing rituals are culture-specific and context-based. Performing the culture-specific rituals for an American soldier will not work as the ‘codes will not match’, so to speak. The rituals will makes sense to an Igorot who is keyed-in to the peculiarities of his culture, but not to an American who has a totally different orientation, programming, belief systems, and, ‘chromosomal configuration’.


The answer is yes:

Shamanism is a universal phenomenon. Before there were different world religions competing with each other, there was shamanism. Shamanism is humanity’s common ancient spiritual heritage. Although the forms of shamanic rituals and practices vary from society to society as shamanism is fluid, flexible, and adapted to the peculiarities of every social grouping, there is a common ‘golden’ thread that runs in the heart of all shamanic cultures. This is the core-essence of shamanism.

The core-essence of shamanism is independent of the different visual forms and culture-specific biases of the many shamanic healing techniques around the world. This core-essence is so fundamental that it transcends the differences in shamanic ritual forms.

This core-essence is what is transferable. The most fundamental codes within the ancient Igorot warrior and the modern American soldier, given the right conditions, will respond to this core-essence leading to the healing of both — notwithstanding their very different backgrounds, value systems, conditioning, and, so-called chromosomal configurations.


* * *


As Chris had sent me a video of Ho’oponopono, an ancient Hawaiian healing technique, my next post will be on my take on this phenomenon.


My Friends and I, We Were To Overthrow the Government

I was sixteen going on seventeen, I just joined a movement that aims to overthrow the Government. . . .

~ ~ ~

The indigenous Igorot tribes are one of, if not, the hardiest people living in the islands ‘still named after King Philip II of Spain’ (as one of my friends insists to call it). The Igorot’s harsh and tough environment undoubtedly shaped their hardy constitution. There was rarely anyone who did not work very hard. For how could they not? In order to have sustenance, the Igorots have to till the rugged, arid mountains they fondly call their home.


Sunrise  over Maligcong rice terraces

Apart from his preserved rich but dynamic pre-colonial culture, the rugged, chilly mountains is all the Igorot got. Even so, within the given constraints of his exacting environment, he learned to adapt and make the best use of his lot. The Igorot forebear, with just his bare hands and a few rudimentary tools, painstakingly carved the steep mountains into a masterful engineering monument of rice and vegetable terraces. With foresight, he knew that the rice terraces, the forests, the clear streams and rivers, are enough to nourish and sustain many more generations of his descendants – for lifetimes after lifetimes. And indeed, in spite of his landlocked and austere location, a contrast to the sunny, wide, and fertile plains of the lowlands, the formidable, cloud-hidden mountains never failed to yield everything necessary for his survival. The Igorot thus survived, and thrived.


Banaue rice terraces

For many hundreds of years, the various Igorot tribes did not need or expect much from the Government. After all, they have always provided for themselves. They built functional irrigation systems and colossal rice terraces without a centralized authority ordering or commanding them. They built without the use of forced labor or slavery. Each tribe was self-subsistent, and aware, that it existed long before there was a Government. . . .

~ ~ ~

I was sixteen, newly arrived in the city – “to do college”. I was very lucky. A year before that, Mother told me that I could not do college – because we have no money. Father had just died, where would she get the money to send me to college?

But I was lucky. Unexpectedly lucky. . . I got a scholarship, from the Government!

When I arrived to the city, I knew nothing of the city and the people in the city. So I obeyed everything my elders told me to do – to be a good girl, basically. They put me in a convent dormitory for girls. There, they said, the convent nuns would make sure that I prayed, and followed the rules.

In the dormitory, a roommate looked down on me, for being a mountain girl, an Igorot, and for being poor.

But in campus, I met new good friends. Exuberant, free-spirited, intelligent friends. They told me that we – The People – whether we hail from the lowlands or the highlands, are poor, because of the Government. That no matter how hard we work, even if we work to our deaths, we will remain poor and wretched because of the Government, and its accomplices.

“But we are scholars of the Government!” I told my new friends, aghast at their plans to overthrow the Government. My friends then told me to listen, very carefully, as they tell me the ‘truth’. That the truth is, it is our right to be given education by the Government. To where do The People’s taxes go, but to be rightfully spent for The People’s free access to education, as well as for the provision of other basic needs for all the citizens of the State?

My friends then showed me facts, statistics, the well researched and well analyzed data regarding the Government’s spendings and transactions. They told me about the Government’s unjust deals and crooked laws and agreements with other nations’ governments, business entities, and the big banks. One of these, which directly disadvantaged my people, was the standing Mining Act that gave mining companies the freedom to devastate tribal lands, allowing 100% foreign control and ownership of these lands, and these companies having the right to displace and resettle people – all this without having to consult the indigenous inhabitants of the land.

My friends’ arguments about overthrowing the Government sounded all too logical. They believed that we – The People – have put the Government in its place. So when it fails in its responsibility and breaks its ‘Social Contract’ with The People, we have all the right to bring down the Government.

I thought of my father. I thought of my mother. I thought of all the people who would be unceremoniously displaced to clear the way for Government-Business projects that would only essentially benefit the few. I thought of the mountains and rice terraces crumbling once the mountains are excavated. I thought of the fresh streams and rivers, polluted. I thought of the dense forests and their animal inhabitants, wiped out.

I could then, clearly, and reasonably see why the Government must, indeed, be overthrown.

My friends claimed that our problem is structural: that the problem of our country, and of the world at large, is embedded in the prevailing economic and political structure. And that our goal is to crush this oppressive and unjust structure and replace it with an alternative.

I was sixteen, going on seventeen; together with others who were more or less of the same age as me, we were fearless, we were dangerous, we were adventurous, we were idealistic – we were ready to face Death – to offer our young lives, for what we believed was a just and noble cause.

Rape Among “Savages”

More than a year ago, I watched a documentary about two Filipino young women, victims of sexual abuse, who wanted to know if there exist a society where women can live without any threat of sexual maltreatment or sexual violence. In the course of their search, they came upon the work of a distinguished anthropologist, Dr. June Prill-Brett, who, while researching in the 1960’s, found out that the Bontoc Igorot indigenous people of the Mountain Province (Philippines) have no known term for ‘rape’. Intrigued by this curious discovery, Dr. Brett, who herself hails from Bontoc, dug deeper and found out that indeed, in Bontoc, the worst crime against women – rape – had been an unknown phenomenon for centuries. The concept was foreign to the indigenous people, and they claimed that they had no incidences of rape!

The two young women followed-up this lead and went to Bontoc to investigate the truth of the matter. But alas, those who could validate the existence of such a rape-less society were only the elders (both male and female) who had witnessed a time in the past where girls and women were spared from any of fear of sexual abuse or violence. This means, what we have here (the elders interviewed in the documentary) are the last generation of Bontoc folks who, having lived in such a society, could attest to the existence of a rape-less society based on actual experience. After this last generation passes away, our information about a rape-less society will no longer be based on first-hand experience, as rape, in present day Bontoc, is not anymore an unknown occurrence.

Asked as to why they think there was no ‘rape’ before, the elders answered that it is simply unthinkable to force a woman to engage in a sexual act if she is not willing.

It must be borne in mind that in traditional Igorot society, women (and men for that matter) were well aware that they are the sole owners of their own body. A woman’s body is not owned or controlled by any “superior being,” say a god, a husband, a father or a brother (who could have the authority to give her away in marriage to a husband of his own choosing). Also, in traditional Igorot society, physical assault, whether directed to a man or a woman, a child or an elderly, is considered a threat to life. Any offense perceived as ‘threat to life’ was regarded a major crime. And major crimes almost often automatically call for a deadly vengeance.

We read in history books, we watch in historical or documentary movies, we see on T.V., we read in newspapers that not only killing but also raping, are what happen during wars. It is even widely believed that rape is a normal by-product of wars.

Not in Bontoc.

During the time of inter-village warfares, warriors did their best to avoid alerting women whom they found working in the fields. And if a warrior had to take an enemy woman’s head, the woman’s sexuality was never ever violated.


There is a very powerful supernatural explanation for that. It made any form of assault against a woman, whether sexual or not, a big no-no.

The following is an excerpt from my book:

Within the cultural context of the Igorot people, when a woman deliberately exposed her private parts in anger, protest, or defiance against a man, an Igorot man knows better to immediately look away and leave. It was believed that if a man looked at a furious naked woman who exposed her private parts with the intention to shame and curse him, he would be blinded and would meet bad luck. This taboo could explain why there were no cases of rape in the olden times in Igorot land.

Furthermore, according to Dr. Brett, the Bontoc elders claimed that in the experience of their people, each of the men cursed by women in the manner explained above, have had the bad luck of having their heads cut-off when they went to battle. This, they say, gave credence to the belief that assaulting women, particularly sexual assault, is an absolute taboo (lawa, paniyiw, inayan).

That was the way the Bontoc women defended against potentially offending members of the opposite sex. It must be noted, however, that such a practice was not limited to protecting oneself only. There are historical cases when native women in the region, thinking perhaps that respect for women’s status and sexuality is universally acknowledged, collectively resorted to baring their sexual parts to shame and drive away the mining companies and the destructive mega dam projects that threatened to destroy their land and lives.

Unfortunately, the proponents, workers, and military protectors of these mining companies and dam projects were outsiders and did not share the same indigenous values and worldview.


Naked But Not Asking For It!

Igorot youths

 “Ub-ubfu” – young Bontok men and women of the same age-group help one another in the fields. Women were naked on top but there was  no sense of malice or judgement as sexual objectification had not yet entered the society.  Circa 1930s (?)







What It Means To Be A Native


In this time and age, you hear indigenous people saying, “This time is a good time to be a Native”.

What does ‘Native’ mean, and what does the statement mean?

‘Native’ is a term used by Native Americans when they refer to themselves as indigenous peoples of the Americas. But since I’m not going to talk about Native Americans only, I interchangeably use the term ‘indigenous peoples’ as this term has a broader scope, geographically and politically speaking.

In my understanding, the statement “this time is a good time to be a Native” implies that compared to a time in the past, this time is a good time for indigenous peoples to show-up as they are. They are now freer to wear their Native identities, even as they find themselves living in a predominantly non-indigenous setting where upheld standards and values are maybe different, and may even be detrimental to their very existence. This time is a better time for Natives because compared to a time in the past, they no longer have to deal with much of the burden their ancestors have had to deal with during the times of colonization, occupation, and enforced acculturation and assimilation.

I could, of course, be wrong. For many indigenous peoples around the world, this time could still be as difficult as in the past. Indigenous peoples the world over have undergone different hardships and levels of resiliency, but one thing they still suffer from in this post-colonial era is their marginalization. Their grievances are real. And this is why they are categorized to belong to the Fourth World*.

Living closely and harmoniously with nature is one thing indigenous peoples are known for. To this day, they occupy natural and mineral resource rich territories which are the continuing source of conflict and clashes between them and governments that are backed by capitalist companies that are seeking to explore and exploit these remaining protected areas.

What would happen if the remaining natural environment is poisoned and destroyed by mining and logging? Where will the indigenous inhabitants build their self-sustaining communities. Where will they plant their food and where will they bury their dead? Removing a person from the natural environment he or she is best suited to thrive in is fatal; it is like depriving fish of water. As the most knowledgeable people of their ecosystem, and as longtime stewards of nature, when indigenous peoples continue to be incapacitated, reduced, or even wiped out off the Planet, the natural world, and the Native peoples’ centuries-old knowledge of the natural world, will likely perish with them.

Real great minds, advanced technology, and nature can co-exist as they complement one another, but shortsightedness and greed are something else.

The topic about indigenous people is close to my heart. For one thing, I am indigenous. For another thing, I feel a bigger purpose for being indigenous.

For being indigenous, I was able to make it to the top university in my country through its educational affirmative action program for indigenous students. Then as an indigenous student, I was hand-picked and fully sponsored to participate in various educational programs and extra-curricular activities. Other students (non-indigenous) either had to pay their costs or had to demonstrate exceptional academic excellence in order to get strong recommendations from university mentors. Scholarship providers and foreign universities favored me not because I was the smartest-ass among the other applicants vying for exactly the same grants. In fact, some of my peers graduated with honors while I did not. Yet I had been “a chosen one”, I presumed, it was because I’m indigenous while the others are not. At that time, my indegeneity was the only observable difference between me and them.

This is why I feel deeply for the cause of indigenous peoples.

While I am very grateful for all the privileges that came my way, and thankful to all the people I had the opportunity to interact with, I don’t feel indebted to the governments and business companies that unconditionally and generously paid me to study any course I was interested in, in the international private universities that I chose to study in. While they paid for my foreign travels, while they wined and dined me and showed me the world, I did not forget the reason why I was having those beautiful experiences.

The reason is because I am indigenous. Being indigenous gave me the edge to be a representative of something different.

My scholarship providers, or rather, their human representatives, had their own reasons for choosing me. I could only guess some of their possible reasons. Perhaps they thought of me and my ’cause’ (no matter how vague it was at that time) as exotically appealing? Or they felt I was someone to be pitied for coming from a marginalized society in whose lands their roaring machines were busily hauling gold, silver, copper and iron from? Or they genuinely sympathized with me, awed by my idealism, and moved by my seemingly strong sense of purpose? Or, it could also simply be that they were intrigued and amused by my youthful brazenness and audacity.

So for me, what does it mean to be a Native?

While I sympathize with the many Native People who are bitter about the horrendous events done in the past and frustrated by ongoing imprudent exploitation of remaining Native lands, while I’m fully aware of the past and present grievances of ‘my people’, I believe that amidst all these hardships, to forgive and to show compassion is an inherent Native trait – at least, as long as I can remember, forgiveness and compassion are primary indigenous values my elders always reminded me of.

Meanwhile, many spiritual practitioners and spiritual gurus teach that there is nothing wrong with the Planet as nature knows how to regenerate, restore, balance and heal herself. They are right. And that’s why we are here. We are an integral part of this Nature who is self-healing, restoring, and regenerating herself. Those of us who feel strongly called to do something for the environment are spawned by Nature herself to tell stories of caring, of healing, of balance, of compassion, of restoration and harmonious co-existence.

Now is really a good time for Native Peoples around the world to come out and share their stories, may it be a sad or a happy story, may it be to teach or to simply amuse and entertain – for the benefit of all humanity – Natives and Non-Natives alike.

This time is called the Age of Communication for a reason.


Happy EARTH DAY everyone!


* The First Worlds are the rich countries. The Second Worlds, arguably, are the socialist countries. The Third Worlds are the poor countries. And the Fourth Worlds, where the indigenous peoples belong to, are the poorest or most disadvantaged of all.

The Discrimination of the Igorots

Time and again, right into the 21st century, we still hear many personal stories from Igorot people how Philippinos react to them when they learn about the latter being an Igorot. The initial reaction is usually of disbelief, followed by a mix of responses ranging from perplexity, embarrassment, awe, fear, and prejudice. This makes Igorots scratch their head in confusion and sometimes utter annoyance by the ignorance of many Philippinos. When truly offended, it is not unheard of that some Igorots respond with drastic measures of counter discrimination and even aggression.

As a response to this centuries-old prejudice, some Igorot politicians endeavored to pass a bill that aimed to officially ban the use of the term ‘Igorot’ in referring to the mountain tribes of the Cordillera region of Luzon, Philippines. I know some Igorot friends back in college who strongly resented being called Igorot and insisted that they be known by their specific tribal or ethnolinguistic affiliations. It was not because they were ashamed of their heritage, but it was their way of rejecting the negative connotations attached to the term ‘Igorot’.

What does the term ‘Igorot’ mean in the first place?

Literally, ‘Igorot’ means ‘people from the mountains’ (the mountain ranges of Luzon island). Thus, they are also referred to as Cordillerans or highlanders, as opposed to the lowlanders of the Philippines.

The word ‘Igorot’ is an exonym, derived from the archaic Tagalog term for ‘mountain people’ (formed from the prefix і-, “dweller of” and golot, “mountain range”) – Wikipedia.

After my blog post, “Improvement of the Race,” many had shared by commenting and also by emailing their personal experiences of discrimination by virtue of being an Igorot. Some have asked where the discrimination came from. And who is to blame? It does appear that a great number of Philippinos are totally innocent of their ignorance – the source of prejudice. So how could you blame someone who is genuinely innocent of being ignorant?

How did the discrimination toward the Igorots came to be?

First, it is not always accurate to blame each and every of our problem on our past – namely our colonial past. Many of our problems, as a nation, also stem from our own doings which can only be resolved by rectifying ourselves. However, when it comes to the topic on how the discrimination against the Igorots came about, I can only honestly point to colonialism as the starting point.

Here’s the story:

A long, long time ago, on the western edge of the world’s biggest ocean, now called the Pacific Ocean, lies a group of a thousand and more islands. These beautiful, tropical islands were inhabited by various independent and sovereign tribes and chiefdoms. All these groups of people traded peacefully with one another and formed friendships and alliances. But just like anywhere else in the world, they also had their differences and misunderstandings that at times, they also fought with one another. These island people also traded with other people who are from even more far away places. They had a thriving trade with the Indians from India, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Arabs, and the other island people to their west and south like the Siamese and Sumatrans.

In the years 1400s and 1500s, on the other side of the world, in a far away continent called Europe, two neighbor countries – Portugal and Spain – were fiercely competing to find sea routes to Asia, and to “discover” and claim new lands. It then came to pass that by March 16, 1521, an explorer named Ferdinand Magellan, under the patronage of Spain, sailed across two big oceans and reached this group of sunny islands on the western edge of the biggest ocean. He was able to convert some natives into his religion and claimed the islands he saw for the king of Spain. In an island called Mactan, Magellan battled with the natives and was killed.

Decades later, after Magellan, several more Spanish expeditions were sent. They had with them the order to conquer and colonize this group of islands in the western Pacific Ocean. And so it came to pass that these originally sovereign and independent island chiefdoms, island by island, fell and succumbed to Spanish imperialism. These group of islands, an archipelago, seven thousand and one hundred seven of them all, were then consolidated and became one country. Thus, a new colony was born, for Spain.

To honor King Philip II of Spain, the conquistadors baptized this new country – “The Philippine Islands”. This was how these group of tropical islands got their name. This was how the present inhabitants of these islands got their name – Philippinos, “nationalized” as Filipinos – a name, which, up to this day, unfortunately, seems to confuse them of their sense of identity and muddles their sense of loyalty.

Indeed, it does happen that 350 years of indoctrination and being ordered around by powerful colonial masters is long enough to make the servant want to identify with the master. It makes the servant want to be like the master, in the way the master looks, talks, thinks, and acts. And those who did not conform to that “coveted standard” were viewed as misfits and inferiors.

Unknown to many, and not always acknowledged even in Philippine history books, there remained a significant population of people in “The Philippines” that defied the Spanish conquest. In the mountain chains of the biggest island, Luzon, are the tribus independientes (independent tribes) now collectively known as the Igorots. Not wanting the king of Spain to become the chief among them, nor did they want any Spaniard or lowlander to claim their land, collect taxes and order them around, the Igorots defeated the combination of Spanish and Philippino troops in many battles. In the south, in the island of Mindanao, are Islamic chiefdoms or sultanates that equally thwarted off Spanish colonization. In addition, there are a number of indigenous tribes in Mindanao who are neither Islamized nor Christianized. This people also had never been a subject of Spain.

This was the beginning of the historical divide; the birth of the gap and alienation between the colonized and the uncolonized inhabitants of The Philippines Islands. Those who refused to bow down to the God of the colonizers, and to pay taxes and tributes to their king, were branded as tulisanes and savage heathens. They were the Igorots in the north and the Moros and other indigenous groups in the south. For more than three hundred years, Spain continuously waged war against them. The Philippinos, being servants of Spain, assisted the colonial masters in these military campaigns against the independent tribes.

Before this ‘historical divide’, it must be noted that the mountain-dwelling Igorots were having a healthy trade with their lowland counterparts. After the lowlanders were enslaved by Spain, the historical process between the highlanders and the lowlanders was no longer the same. The Igorots came to be labeled as uncivilized, law-breakers, ruthless headhunters – who the Hispanized lowlanders, at all cost, should avoid, and be very, very wary of.

More than three hundred years of separation between the highlanders and lowlanders naturally resulted in the ignorance of the latter about the former. Distorted notions and preconceived judgments became so deeply ingrained that from generation to generation,  Philippinos taught their children that the Igorots are wild, dark-skinned, ugly people with tails who kidnap lowland children.

Still, you wonder why, in this time and age of advancement of technology in education, intellectual advancement seem to be lagging behind. School textbooks and lowland school teachers alike are ridden with errors on what they are teaching about history, especially the history of the uncolonized.

Maybe what is needed is to give it more time. Given the 350 years of Spanish colonization, where these prejudiced notions were hatched and upheld, compared to only about a hundred and twenty years since the colonizers have left, we can say that it is understandable how change may not happen overnight.

As they say, time heals everything. Time and mutual respect and understanding will eventually heal the wound, close the gap, and erase the deep scar inflicted by colonialism.

* * *

School children depicting glimpses of Philippine History through dance

higland costume

Igorot costume and way of life



Lowland Filipino way of life and costume in later period. In earlier period, they also wore g-strings just like the Igorots.


Southern principalities

Muslim Mindanao costume and dance



Carinosa – Filipinized Hispanic dance of the lowlanders. Mistakenly called by them as the “national dance”.


“Improvement of the Race”


Before: the Igorot in the village chewing betel nut? haha


After:  being groomed in a hair salon 😀







A young Igorot farmer, dubbed as the “Carrot Man” has recently become an overnight sensation in Philippine social media. He was working on a farm in Bauko, Mountain Province, when two traveling tourists from Manila spotted him by the roadside carrying a basket full of carrots. Captivated by his charming looks, they snapped several photos of him which they posted on Facebook “for everyone to admire”.

Carrot-Mancarrot man photos - Jeyrick Sigmaton 2Carrot-Man-Jeyrick-Sigmaton


Unanticipatedly, his photos went viral and social media went abuzz over a very ‘good-looking’, industrious man from the Cordilleras. Netizens started to wonder and search for this young man’s whereabouts and identity. They likened his looks to a number of Asian celebrities.

Vic Zhoujeyrickcarrotman&KoreanactorsKorean actor Jang Geun Suk

The young man was soon identified to be Jeyrick Sigmaton. Jeyrick happens to be from my hometown. It is a usual practice in my hometown that after the heavy tasks of planting and harvesting rice, farmers may travel to other municipalities to look for temporary jobs. This was what Jeyrick was doing in Bauko Municipality when he was spotted by the tourists who took his photos.

For several days, the “Carrot Man” was trending on Philippine social media that television networks competed in a bid to interview him. The television network that won the bid traveled all the way from Manila to search for him in his far-flung mountain village in Ogo-og, Barlig.

Carrot Man Jeyrick Sigmaton on KMJS photo

On February 28, a popular TV show aired an episode about the Carrot Man wherein an anthropologist and a historian were invited to comment on the Carrot Man phenomenon. The TV host, Jessica Soho, reported that good-looking Igorots with aquiline noses, like Jeyrick, are the product of intermarriage between Igorots and American and British priests and missionaries who arrived in the Mountain Province in the early 1900s. The historian, Dr. Jimmuel Naval from the University of the Philippines, backed the TV host’s story as he stated that the ‘Caucasian’ features of some Igorot people was brought by Anglican missionaries who intermarried with Igorot natives resulting to an “improvement of the race” of the indigenous Igorots. Many Igorots and non-Igorots alike were disturbed by these preposterous and inaccurate statements coming from a multi-awarded journalist, and a University of the Philippines professor of history.

I normally would not involve myself with whatever the social media is going crazy about, so it took me some thinking whether to write this blog post about the “Carrot Man”. The fascination towards this young man from my hometown has brought to the surface enduring and prevalent issues confronting the Filipino psychology, sense of identity and history.

First of all, contrary to Dr. Naval’s statement, Jeyrick and others who look like him, are not necessarily Caucasian-looking. People like Jeyrick, who have aquiline nose, are everywhere in Igorotland and in other Asian countries, and these people do not necessarily have Caucasian ancestry.

Below, on the left side with a black and white shoes, was my father as a young man in 1952. He had a lighter skin color and an aquiline nose. Just like his parents who had the same features as him, he could pass as a Caucasian, but could as well pass as a Japanese or even Chinese, or indigenous Taiwanese. He is of pure Igorot stock.


The point being, there is nothing wrong with having a mixed bloodline and looking like a ‘Caucasian’ with aquiline nose and fair-colored skin. But at the same time, there is also absolutely nothing wrong with having a “pure” Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Asian, Filipino ancestry with a flat, broad nose and brown skin color. The professor from the University of the Philippines seemed to be uninformed of the fact that people with aquiline nose exist in every race, and we do not need to have a Caucasian ancestry in order for our race to be considered “improved”.

Secondly, both Jessica Soho and Dr. Naval’s claims that western missionaries intermarried with Igorots in the early 1900s is historically unproven. In my hometown of Barlig, and in other municipalities in the Mountain Province, it is unheard of that a western missionary ever married a local woman. If the historian, Dr. Naval, has read history books about the Mountain Province, he would have known that there was not such an intermarriage as he claimed. The missionaries who came to the Mountain Province usually came from two countries: United States and the Netherlands or Belgium. The Catholic priests were not allowed to marry, so even in theory, it would have not been possible for them to intermarry with the locals. The Anglican missionaries, on the other hand, according to history books, brought along their wives. There has never been an Anglican mission in Barlig where Jeyrick comes from.

In my hometown, specifically, we have the oral tradition of ub-ufok and ug-ukud where the elders can orally recite our intricate genealogy and tribe’s history from the day our town was starting to be inhabited. These oral genealogists and historians even remember the very personal names of our early ancestors – the first settlers in our hometown. Nowhere in this oral recitations of genealogy was it ever mentioned that someone from our tribe married a Caucasian missionary. A record of such intermarriage was clearly absent both in history books written by scholars and in our genealogy as accounted by our oral historians.

It is strange for a history professor from a renowned university to say that having an aquiline ‘Caucasian’ nose means “improved” race.

It is surprising that a historian, who is looked up to as having authority over his subject matter, goes on to make an erroneous claim about the history of an ethnic group he has not studied.

I guess the real issue here stems from the long-standing and popular notion among many Filipinos regarding the identity and physical features of the Igorot people. For hundreds of years, from generation to generation, the Filipino majority maintained the notion that the word ‘Igorot’ refers to having dark-skin, thick-lips, flat nose, curly-haired barbaric tribes who wear g-strings as their normal everyday clothing. And so when the “Carrot Man” was identified as an Igorot, there was such a fuss; like as if Jeyrick Sigmaton is an anomaly as he did not fit lowlanders’ notion of what an Igorot looks like. Then comes the national television show where a historian claims that Jeyrick Sigmaton looks the way he does because of a Caucasian ancestry that improved his race!

It is a sad fact that Filipinos attribute beauty and good looks to having an aquiline nose and Caucasian features.

It is a sad fact that Filipinos attribute the Carrot Man’s handsome looks on his physical features when such features is not at all unusual in Igorotland. What sets Jeyrick apart is not his good looks based on his aquiline nose and cute dimples as many in social media are always pointing out. But for a people who have strong tendency to only look at external appearances, they do not see that it is the Carrot Man’s innocence and purity that makes him so comely.

When asked which Filipino actress or actor he admires, Jeyrick could not name anyone. Oh, in case the lowlanders don’t know, in the mountains, we are not really that starstruck, so it was not surprising that the Carrot Man could not answer their question about celebrities. And would anybody find it strange that this 21-year-old man does not know what a ‘mall’ is?  Again, in the mountains, we don’t have that consumerist malling culture prevalent among lowland Filipinos.

Enauchi ay Jeyrick, your fate has summoned you. Wherever it leads you, be sure to take care of your soul. The grandparents are looking after you.


Early to mid 1900s Sagada Igorot Man – Masferre Collections

Allu Kuy

Allu Kuy

“Allu Kuy” 48″ x 36″ Oil on Canvas, 2015, by JEF CABLOG

I don’t know why this enigmatic painting was named after me. I have not talked about it with the artist, yet. I presume it was named after me because it was spelled exactly the way I spell my name; the artist could have spelled it different way if he wanted to. And he painted this after  reading my story.

I do not look like the subject in the painting, neither does my grandma (the shamanic mentor mentioned in my story), look like her.

So I take this opportunity to talk about my name.  ‘Allu Kuy’, in my mother tongue, refers to the invisible spirit beings that roam the dense virgin forests surrounding my hometown. At some point in my people’s history, the Allu Kuy were so influential that the townsfolk were very respectful, even to the point of being slightly fearful of them. As a result, when villagers go to the forest to hunt, to fell trees or gather herbs, or to clear a part of the forest for farming, they have to be very considerate, respectful and careful of their activities so as not to disturb and disadvantage these spirit forces whose main job and purpose is to look after the well-being of the forest environment.

My people believe that everything comes from the  Creator, and that every set of creation is special and equal in the Creator’s eyes. Grandma always told me that just like us, human beings, who live in village and town settlements, the Allu Kuy who inhabit the forests have their own houses, families and children to take care of, and that the forests and mountains are their respective territories to also protect. The same is true with rivers and creeks which are also inhabited by another group of spirit beings that must also be acknowledged and respected by human beings.

So when the villagers went to the forests to fell big trees, they asked for permission from the spirit beings that live there. When they hunted animals for consumption, they asked for permission and offered tokens as an act of reciprocation.

From my grandmother’s stories, I understood that all of us, creation-beings, live in parallel universes even within planet Earth. And each type of creation-being has its own designation. These parallel dimensions interweave and the beings within each dimension interact on various tangible and intangible levels. There is no hierarchy and no stratification; each one is different  in configuration but equal in essence. To maintain and foster harmonious co-existence, respect and consideration are expected from each set of creation-being. Otherwise, there would be ramifications.


One of my hometown lakes during summer

These spirit beings inhabiting the rivers, mountains, fields, etc., are usually minding their own roles in their respective territories. As they were not configured to carry material bodies, nor do they build material structures, to survive, they practically do not need anything from the human-being group of creations. Only when they are disturbed or provoked by human beings, through the latter’s inconsiderate, destructive and greedy activities, that these spirit beings get back at humans.

Back  to the painting above, I am guessing that the subject’s peculiar expression gives us a hint on what the artist may have had in mind when he painted it. If you look closely at the painting, especially the background, you would see eyes, faces, and other obscure images or formations. These are the Allu Kuy, and the human in the painting feels their presence.